Positive Actions can Change Negative Thoughts

Posted on by Kim Openo

It has been one of those mornings.  I came in early as a favor for a colleague to do a new client intake, but the potential client called fifteen minutes before the appointment and cancelled.  Thinking to be efficient, I chose to run errands before my next client session three hours later, but I got caught in traffic and made my client wait ten minutes for me to arrive at the locked office.

After that embarrassment, I felt like I never did truly connect with my client during the session.  The next text message I received was from an intern telling me that what I had asked of her could not be done on time.  What a day this had been and it wasn’t even lunchtime!  My mood & snappy actions showed my frustration.

During a little tantrum where I had slammed the stapler down in irritation, the phone rang.  It was a colleague asking if there was a way I could see a friend of his he wanted to refer to me at the hospital instead of at my office (only 5 minutes away).  My first thought, “NO!”  I mean, I am only FIVE MINUTES away – if he needed services, he could just take 5 minutes from his day to get here!

But then he said that his friend was in need of immediate grief counseling because his wife & daughter were lost in a fire this past weekend.  Further, he would not leave the side of his son who was in the burn unit at the nearby hospital.  I immediately said, “Yes, I can help.  I am so sorry for his loss.” I was hard to even think about what I was irate about moments before or why I would not take 5 minutes from MY day to drive to the hospital to see someone who needed my unique services of grief counseling.

There was more. My colleague’s friend likely could not pay for a little while until he was out of shock, his son was in more stable condition, and he could get his life in a slight order. My reply was that money did not matter at this time as I was sure we could work something out at a later date when his life was not in utter chaos.

Immediately, I felt compassion for this man and his son grieving the family that died; I felt grateful for a life that was simply chaotic with little things – not a fire that consumed people I loved; I felt thankful that I had a job where I had skills that could help this man grieve while being strong for his son; and I felt in a much more positive place than when I was simply frustrated that my professional life was a bit of a mess that morning. My little problems no longer matters as I realized that I could give a gift of helpful clarity to this man who had lost so much so quickly.

This day reminded me that sometimes when we are stuck in a negativity rut, it takes a distinct action to move our thoughts back to a happier place.  We must start with action.  The action for me that morning was giving help to someone who needed it, which in turn made my feelings about my morning better, and my thoughts about myself and my profession became happier as a result.  Are there ways that we can change our thoughts without a crisis falling into our laps? Sure!

1. Listen to or read something inspiring.

Instead of hearing about useless celebrity news, listen to a TED talk or bring a great audio book to have when you need a moment of clarity. Watch a colleague that you admire and see what she does to bring her day into focus and make it positive all day.

2. Spend a few second being thankful for what is present.

On the described day, I was so frustrated at work, but instead of a crisis I could have just looked at the reality that I was in a job that represented what I had dreamed of when I went back to graduate school. I worked with an amazing director who was letting me live that dream and explore my own goals.  Being grateful for what IS can be one of the best tools of positivity.

3. Give to someone of your time, your money, or your services.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the doldrums of your life, but when you give of yourself to someone in need for your specific gifts, it makes you less self-absorbed.  When not focused on self, it is easier to be happier for what you have.

4. Move.

Get up and get strong.  Sometimes just a few deep yoga breaths and a lap or two around the office is enough to get the endorphins rushing to your brain to make you feel better.  It does not take a 3 mile run, but just a touch of movement.

5. Do something worthwhile.

If you are stuck in a day where you are almost forced into busywork or doing nothing productive, stop yourself and do something meaningful.  Give $5 to your local NPR station, make a difference to a co-worker by telling them you loved their last idea from staff meeting, or say thank you to a referral source that has given you many clients over the past few weeks.

Again, these actions make your feelings grateful and your thoughts happy.

At times it is more about putting things into action rather than thinking about what to do that makes us feel more positive and trains our thoughts to go towards light thinking rather than dark.  So, next time you are in the dumps, just do something!  Your better mood will thank you!